Sunday, 20 December 2015

Bottled beer in the 1950’s

Remember that ridiculously detailed look at cask beer in the 1950’s I posted earlier this year? I’ve finally got around to bottled beer. From the same book, of course, Jeffrey’s 1956 "Brewing: Theory and Practice".

Bottled beer was, as I’m sure you’re fed up of hearing, all the rage in the 1950’s. It was the only type of beer whose sales were increasing. Making it vital for brewers to have good bottling facilities and the right range of bottled products.

“The demand on the part of the beer drinking public for bottled beers has increased enormously during the past half  century. In the year 1900 bottled beer represented less than 5% of the total output in this country. The proportion had risen to 25% in 1939 and is now 35% (1954). It was estimated that during the latter year some 2,500,000,000 bottles of beer were produced in Great Britain: that is an average of 50 bottles per head of the population representing just over 6 gallons out of a total of 18 gallons per person per annum.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 330.

Undoubtedly the percentage of bottled beer would have been higher, had it not been for WW II. There was a shortage of glass for bottles and even wood for crates, which limited the amount a brewer could produce. (During the war Barclay Perkins regularly sent letters to their tenants warning them they would only get bottled beer delivered if they returned the empty bottles and crates.) Plus bottling used more energy than producing draught beer, which was another important consideration.

So around a third of beer was in bottled form. That’s even more significant when you realise 70-80% of beer was consumed in pubs at the time. There must have been a lot of customers drinking either bottled beer or draught and bottled beer mixed. The situation now is much more complicated. A much higher proportion of drinking goes on at home, so that naturally boosts the amount of bottled or canned beer sold. On the other hand, bottled beer is much less often consumed in pubs.

Here’s a table of draught vs. bottled, showing the ebb and flow in the late 20th century:

UK Draught and bottled beer 1970 - 2002
year draught can/bottle
1960 64 36
1970 73 27
1976 77.1 22.9
1980 78.9 21.1
1985 77.2 22.8
1986 75.8 24.2
1987 74.4 25.6
1988 73.4 26.6
1989 72.1 27.8
1990 71.6 28.4
1991 70.3 29.7
1992 69.3 30.7
1993 68.2 31.8
1994 67 33
1995 65.3 34.7
1996 65.4 34.5
1997 65 35
1998 63.9 36.1
2001 60.3 39.7
2002 58.3 41.7
British Beer and Pub Association

Bottled sales fell between 1960 and 1980, then started to rise again.

Why was the demand for bottled beer increasing in the 1950’s? I’ll let Jeffrey answer that:

“There are many reasons for this increasing demand for bottled beer. The trend in this direction was no doubt increased by higher prices owing to heavy duties. Formerly many beer drinkers could afford to buy a small cask, but now they cannot spare the prohibitive price for that amount. They have to be content with a number of bottles instead. Bottles are much easier to deal with than a cask in the home, and need no tapping and spiling. It must not be forgotten, too, that whereas when the beer was naturally conditioned a certain amount of beer and sediment had to be left in the bottles, nowadays every drop is available for consumption. With chilled and filtered beers there is no waste, a big consideration when the cost is taken into account. Undoubtedly, also, present-day gravities play an important part in the preference for bottled beers. The gravity is often so low that anything approaching reasonable condition is difficult to develop in draught beers. Artificial condition is introduced in bottled beers and makes them more palatable.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 330.

I believe that‘s the first time I’ve seen anyone say that low gravities caused problems in conditioning draught beer. The usual complaint is that it didn’t have a very long shelf-life and was easily messed by poor cellarmanship.

That’s a nice little introduction to the topic. Next we’ll be plunging into the ridiculous detail pool head first.


Tom Challenger said...

Could lower gravity mean less residual sugars, so less/slower carbonation in the cask, maybe? But why didn't they just prime accordingly then?

Ron Pattinson said...

Tom Challenger,

they did usually prime draught beer. It seems to have become pretty much universal after WW I, presumably as a reaction to lowered gravities.